Working at Height



One third of all falls from height involve ladders and stepladders. Such accidents account for 14 deaths and 1,400 injuries each year. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) considers that misuse of ladders in the workplace is in part due to the way they are used in the home. It has therefore issued a guide for employers on the safe use of ladders and stepladders.


  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended).
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998.
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR).
  • Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

Main Legal Duties

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 imposes a duty on all employers to take steps to ensure the health and safety of all employees and third parties. The duty includes taking steps to control risks to such persons when using ladders or stepladders.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended) go further by stating that an employer must ensure that a ladder is used for work at height only where a risk assessment under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 has been carried out. For the use of ladders to be permitted, the risk assessment must show that the use of more suitable work equipment is not justified because there is a low risk and the work will be of short duration or there are existing features on site which the employer cannot alter.

The Hierarchy of Control

The HSE advises that the first step in the safe use of ladders or stepladders is to assess whether this is the most suitable access equipment, taking into account the 'hierarchy of control', as set out in the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (as amended). The hierarchy of control requires that:

  • work at height is avoided wherever possible;
  • where it cannot be avoided, work at height should be carried out using equipment or measures that prevent falls from height; and
  • where is it not possible to prevent falls from height, work equipment or other measures should minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur.

Once it has been established that work at height is necessary, an assessment should be carried out as to whether a ladder or stepladder is the most suitable access equipment compared with other options. See 'Work at height', p.xx for further details of what is required under the Work at Height Regulations.

Selection of Ladders

Only those ladders and stepladders that have sufficient stability should be used (taking into account the worse case scenario and worst type of surface conditions to be encountered). The HSE recommends that only BS EN131 trade and industrial ladders or stepladders are used at work. As a result, only BS EN131 complaint ladders should be used for University activities. No ladder will have a CE mark on the label as there is no CE certificate scheme for ladders. Older Class1/EN131 ladders in use can still be used until they are changed in due course for new BS EN 131 Trade and Industrial ladders. Ladders and stepladders should also be stored and maintained in accordance with manufacturer's instructions.

Safe places for Using Ladders or Stepladders

Ladders or stepladders should only be used on firm and level ground or clean, solid non-slippery surfaces, free from oil, moss or loose material so the feet can grip and where:

  • they can be secured;
  • the restraint devices can be fully opened and any locking devices engaged; and
  • they can be put up at the correct angle of 75°.

Ladders should not be allowed to rest against weak upper surfaces (e.g. glazing or plastic gutters).

Ladders used for access to another level should be tied and stepladders should not be used for this purpose unless designed for such use.

Ladders or stepladders should only be used in areas where they will not be struck by vehicles (and should be protected with suitable barriers or cones if necessary). They should also not be used in locations where they could be pushed over by other hazards such as doors or windows. If this is impractical, the HSE advises that a person should stand guard at the doorway, or inform workers not to open windows until they are told to do so.

Safety Checks

It is imperative to establish that the ladder or stepladder is in a safe condition before it is used. A daily pre-use check should be carried out. A ladder or stepladder should only be used if it has no visible defects. Checks should be carried out in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and should include checks to ensure:

  • the ladder or stepladder is suitable for work use. (Class 1 or BS EN 131 ladders or stepladders. Domestic Class 3 ladders or stepladders are not normally suitable for use at work);
  • ladder stability devices and other accessories are in working order;
  • ladder and stepladder feet are in good repair (not loose, missing, splitting, excessively worn, secure etc.) and clean (as these are essential for preventing the base of the ladder slipping). Ladder feet should also be checked when moving from soft / dirty ground (e.g. dug soil, loose sand / stone, a dirty workshop) to a smooth, solid surface (e.g. paving slabs), to ensure the foot material and not the dirt (e.g. soil or, embedded stones) is making contact with the ground; and
  • the ladder or stepladder has been maintained and stored in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

All ladder or stepladder checks should be recorded. Ladders that are part of a scaffold system need to be inspected every seven days.

HSE visual checklist for ladder safety 

Use of Ladders and Stepladders

There are a number of factors which should be taken into account when using ladders or stepladders. These are set out below:

  • Ladders or stepladders should only be used for light (not strenuous) work and should be in one position for a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • Wherever possible, a handhold should be available. Where this cannot be maintained (either at all or for a brief period of time only), other measures will be required to prevent a fall or reduce the consequence should a fall occur.
  • In relation to stepladders, where a handhold is not practicable, a risk assessment will be needed to justify whether use of the stepladder without a handhold is safe or not.
  • The user should be able to maintain three points (hands and feet) of contact at the working position.
  • The user should never overreach and should keep both feet on the same rung.
  • The user should never overload the ladder or stepladder, i.e. the person and whatever they are taking up should not exceed the ladder's maximum load.
  • A detailed manual handling assessment will be required where a worker is carrying more than 10kg up the ladder or steps.
  • The user should avoid working in a way which imposes a side loading the steps should face the work activity wherever possible.
  • The user should avoid holding items when climbing, for example by using a belt.


Employees should only use a ladder or stepladder if they are competent. Users should be trained and instructed in how to use ladders and stepladders safely. They should also know how to inspect a ladder before using it and should in particular be aware of the following:

  • The need to ensure that the ladder or stepladder is long enough.
  • In the case of ladders, the top three rungs should not be used and ladders used for access should project at least 1m above the landing point and be tied. Alternatively, a safe and secure handhold should be available.
  • In the case of stepladders, the top two steps of a stepladder should not be used unless a suitable handrail is available on the stepladder and the top three steps of swing-back or double-sided stepladders should not be used where a step forms the very top of the stepladder.
  • The ladder or stepladder rungs or steps must be level. This can be judged by the naked eye. (Ladders can be levelled using specially designed devices but not by using bits of brick or whatever else is at hand).
  • The weather should be suitable ladders and stepladders should not be used in strong or gusting winds (the manufacturer's safe working practices should be followed).
  • Users should wear robust, sensible footwear (e.g. safety shoes / boots or trainers). Shoes should not have the soles hanging off, have long or dangling laces, or slippery contaminants on them.
  • Users should be fit certain medical conditions or medication, alcohol or drug abuse could stop them from using ladders.
  • Users should know how to tie a ladder or stepladder properly.

When using a ladder or stepladder, users should not:

  • move it while standing on the rungs / steps;
  • support it by the rungs or steps at the base;
  • slide down the stiles;
  • stand it on moveable objects, such as pallets, bricks, tower scaffolds, excavator buckets, vans or mobile elevating work platforms; or
  • extend a ladder while standing on the rungs.


Ladders or stepladders should never be used within 6m horizontally of any overhead power lines, unless the line owner has made them dead or protected them with temporary insulation. If this is a regular activity, the employer should ascertain whether the lines can be moved. Non-conductive ladders or steps should always be used for any necessary electrical work.